this holiday seasonBig-name hotel chains, point-of-sale systems, large tech companies and even the IRS were affected by major data breaches this year. Since the future of cybersecurity is looking hazy, it’s wise for everyone to be extra cautious with their personal information, as it’s clear that your information can be exposed by nearly anyone. Although no time of year is completely safe from scammers, the holiday season is a time where consumers will want to be extra alert about scams that may target them. To help, we’ve detailed four scams you’ll want to look out for this holiday season.

Charity scams

While you may be hoping to spread good fortune and cheer by donating to charities this holiday season, you should be cautious about who you donate to, as scammers are finding more ways to make a profit off the generosity of others. Although there are many legitimate charities looking to help others in times of need, there are also a large number of phony charities looking to make a quick buck— even the FTC has warned consumers about these types of scams. But monetary donations aren’t the only thing to be on the lookout for. Just last year, we saw an increase in charity thrift store donation scams, where phony companies posing as real nonprofits placed clothing drop boxes across several U.S. states, only to take the donated items and resell them for a profit. You can read this blog post to learn more about these scams, as well as how to tell if a charity is legitimate. And if you’re thinking about donating money to help in natural disaster relief efforts, you’ll want to be sure you know about these common tactics scammers use to steal your money and identity.

Debt reduction scams

The holiday season often comes with a lot of shopping, and sometimes, a lot of credit card bills for those who may have gone a little overboard spreading holiday cheer. Unfortunately, scammers see this as an opportunity to try to take advantage of unsuspecting consumers who are having difficulty paying down their holiday shopping debt. Sometimes this scam comes in the form of an email with a phishing link, and other times as phone call with the promise to help reduce your interest rates, reduce your debt repayments or eliminate your credit card debt altogether. These scammers say that in order to fulfill these promises, you’ll need to pay a fee upfront and provide a bunch of your personal information. Once they receive your money and the information, you’ll likely never hear from them again, as they already have everything they want. If you’re looking for a way to eliminate holiday debt, you may want to consider a legitimate way to avoid paying interest on those payments for an extended period of time, like a balance transfer credit card. These types of cards offer long-term 0% intro APR periods, which gives you more time to help pay down or pay off your holiday balances interest-free.

Card skimmers

You’re probably already heard of ATM skimmers, as scammers have been using this trick for years to steal credit/debit card numbers and PINs. In recent years, criminals have installed skimmers at gas station pumps and ATMs, as well as retail stores and other merchants that haven’t made the switch to chip readers. It’s not always easy to tell when an ATM, gas pump or POS system has a skimmer, as some look and act exactly like a regular credit card reader. That said, there are some things you can do to protect yourself. First, make sure you’re paying with an EMV or chip card if that’s an option, as these types of cards are much more secure than the magnetic stripe cards. When you’re required to swipe instead of dip, you’ll want to inspect the POS system before you slide. If the POS system doesn’t look quite right, like it has scratches on its face or the PIN pad is somewhat lifted, opt to not use it and void the transaction. Another easy way to know if your card was skimmed is to check your statement. You’ll want to keep a close eye on your online banking and credit card statements not just during the holiday season, but year-round to ensure there aren’t any unauthorized purchases being made with your debit and credit cards — note that a credit card is the safer way to pay. If you do see a charge or merchant you don’t recognize, you’ll want to contact your bank or credit card issuer right way to report it as fraud and see if you’re covered by any fraud liability policies.

Tax fraud and identity theft

Although you probably won’t be filing or thinking about your taxes during the holidays, you may be starting to get your paperwork ready as soon as the new year hits if you’re an early filer. Considering the tax industry saw a huge increase in email scams last year, according to the IRS, tax scams are definitely something everyone should be cautious about. Although email and phone scams are the easiest ones to spot, as you’ll be contacted directly by someone claiming to be an IRS agent asking you to confirm your personal information (e.g., name, online filing PIN, social security number, etc.), but there are also others ways you can fall victim to tax scams without even knowing it, especially if you file your taxes online. This year, data breaches affected major companies, such as Equifax and ADP, and even the IRS itself wasn’t immune to W-2 theft, leaving people’s personal information exposed. If someone is able to obtain your personal information and file a tax return in your name, making you a victim of tax identity theft, it can be a major headache to alleviate, as one of our own here at NextAdvisor found out first-hand. You can read more about what happened in her case, and the steps she took as soon as she realized what happened here.

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